Experimentation & Prep Work

ealy_ZionVacation2009__DSC2963-EditAfter acquiring all of my new gear and reading up on portrait lighting I started experimenting on my wife and kids. At first everyone was pretty excited about modeling in front of the camera with all of the new equipment. But that only lasted for about 45 minutes. Then it became more of a chore to sit there in front of the camera while Daddy was continually fiddling with lights, exposure, and positioning of the flashes. The things I was looking into were generally what was the exposure range I’d need for my light setup, and to see the look of the shadowed areas on my subjects faces. Honestly there were somethings that I just never really figured out, even during the whole 6 month time frame of this project.

But here are a few things that I discovered:

  • My f-stops ranged from f/1.8 to f/8 but most of the time they were limited to the range f/3.2 – f/5.6.
  • The shutter speeds ranged from 1/50 to 1/200th seconds.
  • Most images were shot on my 24-70mm f/2.8, with several on my 85mm f/1.8 and a few with my 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor lenses.
  • Most images were shot at 320 ISO, with a few at 200 ISO (base ISO on the D700).
  • The number of flashes used was from 1 to 5. I had 3 SB-800s one SB-600 and also used the built in flash on my D700.
  • For this project I used 2 cameras, my own D700 and also my father’s D3x.
  • Cheap backdrops are quite a pain in the butt, mostly because they’re thin and see through, and hold on to their wrinkles.
  • Shoot through umbrellas are really great.
  • Nikon CLS is your friend.

Before I started with this project I had only used off camera flash a handful of times. And when I had done so the results were less than stellar because A. I didn’t put much thought into it, and B. I didn’t have proper flash stands. The combination of the stands and shoot through umbrellas really made the light much more pleasing as it illuminated the subject, not so harsh with such deep shadows as you normally get with a bare flashgun.

I also did a bit of experimentation with light modifiers. One thing that I had wanted to try was using a cookie to cast an interesting shadow on my backdrops. A cookie is something that goes between the light source and what is being illuminated. For instance if you were to place some window blinds between your light and its subject then you would get horizontal shadows cast upon it. I never really had much success with cookies in this project (we didn’t have much stuff around the house that lent itself to that type of usage, or I wasn’t being quite imaginative enough). One trick that I did have some success with was in making various snoots to keep the light confined to a controlled shape.

My need for a snoot first arose when I was trying to light one of my backdrops with the desire to keep the illumination such that it would only be slightly larger than the person I was photographing. I was actually quick on my feet during this process because the need came up in the middle of a shoot, and I didn’t already have something planned out for this. Thinking of what was in the house it occurred to me that we have plenty of little plastic tubs that food ships in (like tupperware containers that hold 2 cups of liquid). So I grabbed one of these from the cupboard and just put it over the flash that was pointing at the backdrop. In this first usage the flash was about 2 feet from the backdrop and the circle of light it cast was a fairly well defined circle. I used this quick and dirty snoot for a number of shots, but eventually moved up to a more sophisticated (cereal boxes, straws, white glue and gaffers tape) later in the project.

Next time: Problems and things to watch out for.

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